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24th August
2009
written by Steph
G'day, G'day!

G'day, G'day!

I am not sure if I have ever documented it here, but I generally dread watching movies that are more than 90 minutes long.  Normally I can stretch myself to 2 hours if necessary, but in most cases, movies past the 120 minute mark are needlessly bloated and I get grumpy about having had to sit still for that long.  Plus I tend to get bored and sleepy.  Maybe part of this stems from the fact that we don’t have any kind of cable (basic or otherwise), so we tend to watch Netflix stuff during the evening… and if a movie is longer than 2 hours, then that means a good chunk of our night is gone if we’re watching it on a “school night”.  So things did not bode well for Australia going in, and some might wonder why it even wound up on our queue.  Well, I love me some Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge is probably one of my top 10 favorite movies) AND I have recently been going through a phase where I am fascinated by the land down under (mostly the accents, I think)… so both of these factors managed to cancel out the 165 (!!!) minute runtime and we decided to give this a go. Of course we also ignored the fact that this movie bombed horrifically in North America when it was released… and at the initial outset I think both Tony and I wondered what the heck we had gotten ourself into.  Tony remarked that if felt oddly like we were watching a Disney movie about Australia, which I think about sums it up… everything just seemed very… chirpy, from a visual standpoint.  I think it didn’t really help matters either that the storytelling initially feels very disjointed, and there’s a lot of weird aborigine folklore, and the less said about Nicole Kidman’s HORRIFIC over-acting the better (it was oddly vaudeville, and more suited to Moulin Rouge than the tone of this film, despite its romantic leanings… And I’m not the only one to think so, as apparently Kidman herself is pretty ashamed of her performance).  I guess it only makes sense that for a looong movie the first bit might be a tad slow going, and that first 30 minutes was a hard test… but we stuck with it, and ultimately I’m not sad that we did. The basic premise is that Nicole Kidman (henceforth known as Mrs. Boss, as that is what the little aborigine boy called her) comes over from England to join her husband on his cattle ranch located in the Northern province of Australia.  Only, there is another rancher in town who’d like to get a monopoly on the beef trade, so he has Mr. Boss killed!  So when Mrs. Boss gets there, she’s a bit at a loss as to what to do, but ultimately decides on moral grounds that she must keep the ranch going, at least so that she can settle her husband’s unfinished transactions.  This requires her to call on Hugh Jackman (“Drover”… he is never given a name aside from his actual job title) to help lead the expedition.  Of course they both personally dislike each other, he going so far as to have declared he wouldn’t go near her if she were the last Sheila on earth!  I think we all see where that storyline is headed… Anyway, they wind up having a bunch of adventures and then Mrs. Boss comes to care for the little aborgine boy who hangs around the ranch and wants to adopt him, but he is half-white, half black, and at that time the Aussie government was rounding up said children and sending them to Christian camps where they could have the “savage” removed from them so that they could take their place in civilized society.  So aborigine boy gets caught by the nefarious head of the rival ranching business (who happens to be his father, only it’s supposed to be a secret…) and sent to one of these camps on an island… And Mrs. Boss and the Drover have fought and so the Drover has left on some lengthy trip, and then the island where aborigine boy is gets bombed by the Japanese (this is taking place in the city of Darwin, which was bombed in WWII)!  So the Drover has to go out and see if he can find aborigine boy, all the while thinking Mrs. Boss has been killed… and I won’t say any more, because there is real tension as to whether there will be a truly happy ending, or maybe one that is bittersweet.
Crikey!  Nicole Kidman has just cost me an Oscar!

Crikey! Nicole Kidman has just cost me an Oscar!

Wow.  That was a terrible synopsis, but it was a long movie!  So a lot happens… and not all of it is necessary, but most of it is quite good.  We found ourselves caught up in the characters’ plights, and as goofy as the beginning is, by the end you definitely feel like Luhrmann has created this over-the-top romantic epic in the vein of good old fashioned storytelling (there’s a parallel with The Wizard of Oz throughout that I won’t go into, but you catch my drift… it’s all slightly larger than life).  At times this is a disservice to the film, because many of the characters are cartoonish in their characterization – pretty one-dimensional – but while this might prevent Australia from being a great film, it doesn’t make it bad.  And at least on Blu-Ray, it’s really pretty to watch.  The costumes were gorgeous (I covet the riding boots Nicole Kidman wears throughout), and the cinematography is really something to behold.  It might have been nice to see such a big movie on the big screen, but that being said, we have found certain movies look even better on our tv when they’re released on blu-ray!  From a non-Aussie perspective, it was also interesting to learn about the way indigenous people have been treated in Australia (what bitter irony that the Australian government didn’t officially stop the practice of integration until sometime in the mid ‘70s, but then does not offer an apology for it until another 30 years later!), and also to just get a better sense of the roots of this country and its people. And you know what? As long as it was, we actually did watch the whole thing through in one go.  This is a big, messy movie, with perhaps too much going on (“a whole lot of look!” ™ Tim Gunn), but if you’re in the mood for an epic, sprawling story (or really, many stories that span several years) then this might be the thing for you.  In the end, I wound up enjoying the way Baz Luhrmann plays off of the fairy tale motif, as I think Australia connotes that quality in many North Americans’ minds (it is the land of creatures like the platypus after all!).  It’s unabashedly romantic and larger than life, but if we can’t allow a movie to offer us that and sweep us away, I think we have to ask ourselves if we have made any place for such a thing in any corner of our lives.  And if not?  Why not? Rating: 3 out of 5

11 Comments

  1. That’s pretty much how I felt about this movie. We saw it in a theater and my gosh, it was just too long. It reminded me a little of Gone With the Wind except set down under.

  2. 08/24/2009

    @ Kim: I haven’t seen Gone With The Wind, but I suspect your comparison is very apt! I am sure one day I’ll see GWTW and won’t be surprised if I find it a similar experience!
     
    @ Sim: I don’t know if an airplane would be a wonderful or a terrible place to watch this movie! On the one hand, there’s nowhere to go so you might as well watch, but on the other hand, sleeping on airplanes is pretty much the best way to go in my book! You can always watch it now that you’re safely on the ground should really want to (and could probably fast-forward through those first 20 minutes!)…

  3. Sim
    08/24/2009

    I tried watching this on an airplane and never made it past the 20 minute mark. Your review kind of makes me wish I’d stuck with it, but then again that was some goooooood sleep…

  4. 08/24/2009

    My family and I watched this movie a few weeks ago, and thought it was ok, but it was just too long. It kind of became a joke while watching. We would each poke the other and say “I think it should end here. Needless to say, there was a lot of poking going on. I didn’t hate the movie though, but I did think it was a little strange. I liked what you said about it being very Disney-like. Very apt description.

  5. 08/24/2009

    Ahaha! I felt the same. My husband and I saw this a couple of weeks ago and gave each other the what-did-we-get-ourselves-into look at the beginning. And then, right after the part where Nicole and Hugh got the drove into the ship, and after the party, we thought that was it. Turns out it’s barely started haha. We didn’t know it would be that long. We have the same mixed feelings. Liked it but also didn’t like it. But there WAS something endearing in the end about its absurdity, eh? Lol.

  6. 08/24/2009

    It looks like we’re all in sync with our impression here. My bf and I both let out an “O—–kay” under our breath when we saw the preview trailer at the movie theater. But eventually Kidman’s charm drew us in to watch it–on DVD. Honestly I didn’t quite get the first 30 minutes worth of chaos, so thanks for clarifying that for me. Ha! 🙂

  7. 08/24/2009

    @ Zibilee: We were doing the same thing – there were so many storylines that kept cropping up, it felt like they just couldn’t pick what was important to tell and what wasn’t. Several times we thought the movie was on the cusp of ending only to look at the clock and realize we weren’t anywhere close to being done!
     
    @ Claire: We thought the same thing at that part in the movie too! Any other film would have only had maybe another 20 minutes tops, but as you said, this one was just beginning!
     
    @ Matt: I only figured out what was going on in that first part in retrospect; while watching it through, I was really confused at the beginning, there was just so much happening and so many stories. Plus Nicole Kidman is really awful early on in the movie, which made it painful, but as you say the movie does eventually hit its stride and drew us in.

  8. 08/25/2009

    This is similar to how I felt about the movie. I ended up really enjoying it even if the beginning offset me a bit. It really was a long movie, but still, I felt like it was at least a worthwhile movie. The story is a good one even if it is more like three stories all woven into one really long movie.

  9. 08/25/2009

    @ Jennifer: I agree! It really did feel like three different stories got combined to make one really loooong movie!

  10. Kay
    08/31/2009

    I have been avoiding this one for similar reasons : it seems so long! And I love Baz Luhrmann too (I share your feelings on Moulin Rouge). In then end, I guess I’ll have to give it a try. Especially after reading your review, I am curious to see how the “fairy tale motif” and the Wizard of Oz parallel are put into it! 🙂

  11. 08/31/2009

    @ Kay: As a Baz fan, I think you should at least rent it. I found the hardest part was putting it in and then watching the first half hour, but from there it was gravy. The man really makes very sumptuous films!

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